Sundance Review: XX is XXcellent

Anthology movies are usually understood to be hit and miss. You go in forgiving the weak ones and hoping for some standouts. Horror is the most prolific genre for  anthologies although there is the Cities of Love series and back in the day there were Kentucky Fried Movie, Amazon Women on the Moon and New York Stories. With four horror shorts, XX is solidly consistent. I may have favorites but there’s not a dud in the bunch.XX

In The Box, a boy gets a peek in a stranger’s Christmas gift on the subway, and it changes him. Every time he tells a family member what he saw, it changes them too. Very smartly, writer/director Jovanka Vuckovic never says what was in the box so the audience can imagine whatever they want.XX

Birthday Party is the most fun, as a macabre dark comedy written by Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark (St. Vincent), directed by Clark. On the day of her daughter’s birthday party, Mary (Melanie Lynskey) discovers her husband’s dead body, so tries to hide it so as not to spoil the party. A series of final text cards make a great punchline.

XXDon’t Fall sets up a group of attractive camping kids to run into a monster. There’s a good monster transformation in the shadows, and this seems like the shortest one. I wasn’t timing them specifically, but it gets right to the point. Written and directed by Benjamin.

Her Only Living Son begins as a family drama but we quickly discern there’s something more. Cora (Lisa Costanza)’s son Andy (Kyle Allen) is bitter that he never gets to see his father, but the way his teachers defend Andy’s bullying seems like a cult akin to writer/director Karyn Kusama’s movie The Invitation. We figure out exactly what’s going on and it’s a satisfying conclusion.

I appreciate that they give titles and credits for each one, so we know what we’re watching. When they don’t, it’s often too late by the time the credits role to pinpoint which ones you even liked. XX makes it clear which filmmakers created each short so even if you didn’t universally like each one like I did, you can credit the appropriate filmmaker for your favorites. XX is in theaters and VOD Friday, February 17.

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